Jackpot

PARIS, Apr.24 (AFP) – While governments and consumers weep over the rise and rise of fuel prices, oil companies are rubbing their hands in glee. Last year the world’s 250 top oil companies earned profits totalling 243 billion euros (300 billion dollars), a 35-percent increase on 2004, and that in spite of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico that undermined production, according to figures from French brokerage Aurel Leven.

With the new record highs in the price of crude, which topped 75 dollars a barrel for the first time ever in New York on Friday, these companies are guaranteed an even better harvest this year.

Analysts, who in February were predicting an average price over the year of 55 dollars a barrel, subsequently upped their forecasts to above 60 dollars.

They could raise their sights still further if the current price surge continues, said Aurel Leven analyst Christian Parisot.

The world’s largest oil group, US giant ExxonMobil, posted a profit in 2005 of 36 billion dollars on turnover of 371 billion.

That is more than the gross domestic product of Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil producer.

The global number two, Anglo